The weather had yo-yoed between winter and spring several times by the end of February 1980. More than 5 inches of snow fell on Jan. 5, then 4 inches on Jan. 31, followed by an amazing 12.4 inches on Feb. 6, the most that had dropped in Norfolk on a single day since 1892. An entire year's snowfall in Hampton Roads was usually just a tad more than 7 inches. Everyone - TV weathermen, headline writers, even the National Weather Service - called February's storm the snow of the century. Three days later, another 6.5 inches fell, but about two weeks after that the temperature shot up to 70 degrees. Short sleeves and roller skates came out, windows opened and the sun shone. Norfolk had already had 28.2 inches of snow that year. Surely winter was over. In late February, the circus opened at Scope. Perhaps it was coincidence, perhaps an omen, but the poster that year featured Ursula Bottcher and her performing animals. They were polar bears. Continued on page 6Joe Walton of Kempsville had put off buying tickets, but remorse set in at the last minute. The Abrams family of Portsmouth, on the other hand, had for weeks been anticipating the arrival of Ringling Bro s. and Barnum & Bailey. Sally Smith was getting married that weekend, and so was deeply involved in her own kind of circus.
Circus Blizzard of 1980: The Show Goes On, but Little Else
On Friday, Feb. 29, a low-pressure system along the Gulf coast started pushing northeast. The National Weather Service cautiously predicted that the storm would arrive in Hampton Roads two days later, dropping 3 to 5 inches of snow.The Blue Unit of the circus also had two days to go before ending its five-day run at Scope. Jeff Darnell, in his second season with the show, was living his dream of performing as a clown known as J.D. His picture was also on the poster for that year's show, which featured the horses and elephants of the Richter family, performers who would later appear in the circus scene of the James Bond film "Octopussy"; the King Charles Troupe unicyclists; the Farias family trapeze artists; the "Smallest Man in the World," 33-inch-tall Michu; and Bottcher's polar bears.Saturday, March 1, dawned as a beautiful day.In Virginia Beach, Smith was helping her mother with makeup when she noticed snow starting to fall. She remembered what her fiance's friends had said - that Hampton Roads would have a snowstorm before he ever got married. By the time she left for the church, two hours before the ceremony, overpasses ...